American Painter and Printmaker
Summary of Joan Mitchell
Joan Mitchell is known for the compositional rhythms, bold coloration, and sweeping gestural brushstrokes of her large and often multi-paneled paintings. Inspired by landscape, nature, and poetry, her intent was not to create a recognizable image, but to convey emotions. Mitchell's early success in the 1950s was striking at a time when few women artists were recognized. She referred to herself as the "last Abstract Expressionist," and she continued to create abstract paintings until her death in 1992.
- Inspired by the gestural painting of Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, Joan Mitchell's mature work comprised a highly abstract, richly colored, calligraphic manner, which balanced elements of structured composition with a mood of wild improvisation.
- Mitchell rejected the emphasis on flatness and the "all-over" approach to composition that were prevalent among many of the leading Abstract Expressionists. Instead, she preferred to retain a more traditional sense of figure and ground in her pictures, and she often composed them in ways that evoked impressions of landscape.
- Mitchell's abrasive personality has been a key factor in interpretations of her painting, which critics often read as expressions of rage and violence. Yet, almost as often, they have seen lyricism in her work.
Biography of Joan Mitchell
From an early age, Joan Mitchell showed an interest and love of painting, art, and poetry. She grew up comfortably in Chicago as the younger of two girls. Her mother, a poet, writer, and editor, sparked her lifelong interest in poetry. Her father, a successful doctor, would often take her to the Art Institute of Chicago and other museums.
Important Art by Joan Mitchell
Untitled (1951) was one of the seminal works in Joan Mitchell's first solo exhibition at The New Gallery in New York City in 1952. Paul Brach's review announced, "The debut of this young painter marks the appearance of a new personality in abstract painting. Miss Mitchell's huge canvases are post-Cubist in their precise articulation of spatial intervals, yet they remain close in spirit to American Abstract Expressionism in their explosive impact."
Informed by an urban energy, City Landscape is an iconic example of Mitchell's early work. The tension between the horizontal brushstrokes of vibrant color in the center with the surrounding whites exemplifies her use of the figure-ground relationship. The work also demonstrates her debt to Philip Guston, whose Abstract Expressionist work was often likened to Impressionism.
Mitchell's paintings are striking in their sheer physicality. She used bold and active strokes of paint on large canvases. In Hemlock, her use of cool whites interplays with the horizontal lines of green and black and gives the sense of an evergreen in the winter.